Established in 1961, this camp is the newest and therefore the youngest addition to the Yosemite High Sierra Camp system. Perched at an elevation of 9,400 feet, it lies directly next to the enchanting Long Meadow with its’ outstanding views of several dramatic mountain ranges and unique peaks. The camp is listed on the National Registry of Historic places and was the final cog in the wheel which now comprises the High Sierra Camp Loop.
All of Yosemite’s camp locations are special but this camps’ perch just above timber line with the proximity to a very long list of classic mountain vistas and numerous lakes makes it even more noteworthy. Except for a few permanent structures, all the guest cabins, bathhouse tent and dinner tent are completely disassembled before the winter snows. The camp is resupplied with food and other materials entirely by mule train. There is no electricity or cell service. Reservations are obtained by a once per year lottery system.
It took over fifty years for the High Sierra Camp Loop to achieve the original goal of each camp being no more than one days hike from each other. In the early days, some camps were up to 18 miles distant. Finally in 1961 with the establishment of the Sunrise, all camps were under 10 miles apart. The long delay with the one day hike goal was due in part to the nations’ focus on World War II.
The driving force behind establishing the Sunrise camp was Mary Curry Tresidder, president of the Yosemite Park and Curry Company. Its’ creation was the fulfillment of her personal dream to honor her husband. It started in 1934 when she and Donald Tresidder camped at one of their favorite spots which would eventually become the Sunrise H.S Camp. After his death, she envisioned that special spot becoming part of the High Sierra Camp Loop. She was so committed that she donated half the costs of establishing the camp to the National Park Service to insure its’ creation.
Lodgepole pines dot the level but narrow granite bench of which this camp resides. At the southern end of the camp, a very large granite outcrop rises up behind the camp and serves as a protective backdrop. Delightful large granite boulders called glacial erratics lay about the camp and cabins add even more scenic value.
Unbelievable vistas of the surrounding Clarks Range constantly reminds one that you are at a High Sierra elevation. The mighty Cathedral Peak with it’s slopping pointy summit stands guard to the entire area. Because the camp is not far from Tuolumne Meadows, it shares the same feeling of being surrounded by scenic granite domes in every direction. Speaking of domes, two pop up directly behind the camp in a very amusing configuration, which appears as ladies’ bosoms (think Dolly Parton).
However, it is the picturesque Long Meadow directly next to camp that the entire Sierra seems to rises from. The camp is truly one of the most magnificent locations to witness a Sierra Sunrise, hence the monicker of the camps’ name.
Two irregular rows of 9 canvas sided cabins line Long Meadow. The cabins are assigned to guests dormitory style. Meaning, you will sleep in the same cabin as other hikers. Each tent holds 4 campers and the maximum camps’ capacity of 36 guests fills each night. Bring your ear plugs for noisy/snoring sleep-mates. Layered clothing options are recommended.
The cabins have a steel pole frames and are constructed on concrete platforms 12′ x 14.’ Each has a wood screened door and a narrow vertical storage shelf. Beds have squeaky steel frames and are older style cot mattresses which are all singles. No “glamping” style thick, plush mattresses here. You are required to bring your own sheets or sleeping shell. However, blankets and pillows are provided. in spite of this, campers are generally comfortable and thankful just to have a spot at a Yosemite High Sierra Camp.
Nights can be very cold but a wood stove is provided in each tent with fuel to burn. If the heater is fired all night, some complain of coughing the next day. Better to use it in the early morning when it is coldest anyway.
Perhaps the most charming aspect of the camp’s infrastructure is the beautiful native granite rock retaining walls and the well crafted granite stairs. They allow guests to walk the steep 12 foot slope to Long Meadow. The stone workers did an amazing job of incorporated the granite stairs into the rock bench where the camp lives. The stairs are extensive and measure 33 yards long.
The corral, a fact of life at all High Sierra Camps, sits to the northeast and is a good distance from camp (420 yards). It was moved to its current location in approximately 1975 in an effort to minimize the smell and associated flies found at all corrals. The corral is used to maintain stock coming in with supply loads as well as guests on saddle rides.
FOOD AND DRINK
This camp’s cookhouse is unique to the High Sierra Camp system in Yosemite. Because it was built at a much later date than the other cookhouses (built in the 1930s), this 1961 structure does a much better job of blending in with the natural environment. The use of local granite and wood timbers results in a beautiful integrated structure.
The diner tent is a large canvas sided eating area attached to the stone cookhouse. It large 18′ X 36′ steel framed roof is mounted on a concrete platform. One side is enclosed with screens to allow viewing the scenic Long Meadow as well as views of the Clark Range.
Food is served family style and although plentiful and well made, it is cooked by a seasonal worker, not a gourmet trained chef. Fresh salads and homemade desserts are made daily. The presentation and menus can be very basic. Most find the meals taste better than they really are as a hard days hike gives hikers a good appetite.
Breakfast is the traditionally hot cooked affair and lunch sandwiches are available for purchase. Fresh food and all supplies are restocked via mule train. Alcohol is not sold but you are allowed to bring your own it. Alternately, you could arrange to have it packed it with the wranglers pack train for $5.00 per bottle. This option would obviously require significantly advanced request.
DAY HIKING OPTIONS
Because of the camps location, there are numerous hiking and peak bagging possibilities. Depending on how you hiked in or will hike out, some of these are on the way. If you are on a saddle trip and have an extra day to spend, go to them all. Sunrise Lakes are 3 in total and each are worth investigating.
The unnamed twin domes behind camp contain a hidden tarn in the saddle between them. Columbia Finger is the striking pinnacle near camp and directly next to the John Muir Trail. Further from camp but worthy a day hike are the Cathedral Lakes.
Many of the surrounding peaks can be “peak bagged” which is not technical climbing but requires you to ascend using both your hands as well as your feet. This is a very popular activity in High Sierra Camps such as this. Echo Peaks are spectacular and well worth the effort. Matthes Crest is also nearby and fun to peak bag.
SHOWERS AND TOILETS
Both the showers and toilets are housed in the same structure. It is referred to as the Bath House, although there are only showers and no baths. Built recently in 1997, it took several years to construct. The large 24′ x 30′ building uses native granite stone and weathered wood siding. There are no flush toilets at Sunrise, instead composting toilets are provided. Powered by solar energy, they are roughly the same design as the one at Vogelsang. Solar powered composting toilets have become the norm in the High Sierra.
The two story structure houses the composting vault on the bottom floor. At the upper level, a breezeway separates the 4 showers stalls from the 4 toilet stalls. The design required the construction of massive stone steps for access to the second level. The steps use local granite rocks and the stonework and weather wood siding blends nicely to the surroundings. The entire structure nestles up against a granite slope which results in a much better integration into the landscape than sitting in the middle of the camp as Vogelsang does.
A spring above the camp provides water to the showers and also provides drinking water for the camp. Out of view is a water treatment shed which also houses the solar equipment to heat the showers. The spring continues down to Long Meadow and eventually feeds Long Meadow Creek.
ENTERTAINMENT AND TRADITIONS
As with all camps, the campfire circle is a nightly social event. It is located at the extreme end of camp. Seating is provided on cut wood stumps unlike some other camps which have commercial wooden benches.
Although varying from season to season, seasonal camp workers sometimes volunteer their talents in the form of song or guitar as the after dinner entertainment.
Another common event is viewing both the sunset as well as the sunrise which results in amazing colors on the neighboring peaks. The Alpine Glow at sunset is especially interesting due to the close by peak formations. Don’t miss it! If you get up early enough and have put on several layers of clothing to combat the chilly temperatures, you will witness the special sunrise from which the camp derives its name.
Lastly, each camp has the choice of how guests are called to dinner. Sunrise has a western chuck wagon triangle but reports of the vuvuzela horn being used have also been reported. A vuvuzela is often used at soccer games in South Africa and sounds like a fog horn.
BOOKING YOUR STAY
At the time you make reservations, you choose between waking in or a saddle ride, meaning a mule and donning a protection helmet. The saddle option can be uncomfortable for many due to discomfort to the legs and buttocks. If you have ever been “saddle sore” than you know how uncomfortable this can be.
This is definitely a cast of “pick your poison” when deciding if you want to walk long distances versus riding a mule for long distances. It is a very individual choice. Reservations are made through a yearly lottery and fills fast. However, some campers have good luck with last minute cancellations, if you have that type of flexible schedule. See our Reservations page for more information and helpful hints.
The trail starts at the Tuolumne Lodge and this moderate route gains 750 feet over 8.5 miles. Along the way you will be treated to fantastic views of Cathedral Peak. The Clark Range will also come into view with a beautiful view of Cathedral Lakes. It is possible to take a shorted trail the starts form Tenaya Lake but the scenery is not as dramatic and the trail is also steeper.